Greens claim on Waitara River baseles

June 8th, 2016 at 9:00 am by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

Green Party claims that the Waitara River is so polluted it is unsafe for bathers have been described as “baseless” by councillors.

Over the Queen’s Birthday weekend the Greens released a list of 10 rivers around the country that they claimed were now unsuitable for swimming.

The 10 included the Waitara, which the party said was affected by raw sewage spills.

So what are the facts:

“The Green Party’s facts are totally misaligned with reality,” council chief executive Basil Chamberlain said. 

“It’s sad for the community of Waitara who can right now swim in their river 95 per cent of the time.”

So that is 345 days out of 365 it is fine for swimming.

The council’s director of environment quality, Gary Bedford, said he could find “no factual base to the Green’s claims”.

Strong words.

“We test the Waitara River every week during peak bathing season and have found it swimmable for 95 per cent of the time,” he said. 

Bedford stressed that the council’s water quality data was publicly available and audited by Niwa to ensure its accuracy.

So who do you trust?

Smith on water

June 2nd, 2016 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

A good column by Nick Smith:

News that companies are extracting millions of litres of water for bottling and export has got the Green Party demanding a moratorium, Labour a new water tax and New Zealand First a prohibition on export.

So the Greens want to ban bottled water, NZ First want to ban exporting it and Labour wants a special tax on water.

New Zealand has 500 trillion litres of water flowing through our lakes, rivers and aquifers. Each year we extract 10 trillion litres, or 2 per cent. The water shortages we have are in quite defined areas and for only some of the year. NZ has no overall shortage.

The 10 trillion litres of water we extract each year is made up of six trillion for irrigation, two trillion for municipal supplies and two trillion for industry. Three billion litres used for the bottled water industry may sound a lot but it is less than 1 per cent used by industry and 0.004 per cent of the annual resource. The suggestion by some that Mr and Mrs Average Kiwi won’t be able to bathe because of bottled water exports is ridiculous.

0.004% is what they are complaining about.

Regional councils manage about 20,500 water permits of which 41 are solely for water bottling and a further 30 for a mix of uses, including bottled water. But only 23 of the permits are being used for now, reflecting the fact this is a niche industry. More than a dozen water-bottlers have gone broke. It is a myth that this is an easy industry in which to make lots of money.

This is true.

The only fair charging option would be to charge everyone. I heard one opposition MP call for a uniform charge for all commercial water users of 10c a litre. Kiwis need to appreciate that our major export earners such as horticulture and dairying are water intensive. A litre of milk takes about 250 litres of water to produce so that would be an extra cost of $25 a litre – a cost which would push the price of milk through the roof for consumers and destroy our largest export industry.

The Government is open to modest charges for water users, for the cost of managing water resources. We are proposing as part of our current freshwater reforms to allow councils to charge water users a per-litre levy for the costs of the water quality, monitoring water takes and ensuring compliance, rather than on rates paid by everyone. However, the charge would be for cost recovery only and would not price the natural resource.

That seems fair. User pays.

We should charge for water – but for everyone

April 23rd, 2016 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

Prime Minister John Key has downplayed concerns over foreign companies bottling and exporting water for large profits, saying only “a very tiny amount” is being sent overseas.

Controversy has been sparked by the Ashburton District Council’s decision to sell a property, with rights to extract 40 billion litres of water over 30 years, to an overseas company.

Opposition parties and environmental groups have called on the Government to charge fees for large-scale water takes which are exported overseas.

Why would you charge only if it is being exported? You charge for all or none.

However, Key told reporters in Beijing that governments had operated under a “long-standing principle” that water did not belong to anybody, and could not be sold by the Crown.

“The point is that no-one owns water, and if we’re going to start charging for it, then arguably we’d have to be consistent and charge a lot of people.

Yep. And we should as the market would be better at allocating water than local government officials.

“That means Meridian, when it gets its water and puts it through its hydro schemes, they would need to pay for that water, and Meridian aren’t going to pay the bill, so you the consumer are.”

Key said the access permits were only temporary, while only 0.004 per cent of all water used in New Zealand was bottled and sent overseas.

It is a tiny amount, and as usual xenophobia is behind it. But again Meridian should pay for the water it uses.

500 trillion litres!

April 22nd, 2016 at 1:00 pm by David Farrar

Nick Smith released:

The call from opposition parties for a moratorium or a new tax on consents for bottled water plants is typically uninformed and scientifically unsound in respect of dealing with the challenges New Zealand has in freshwater management, says Environment Minister Dr Nick Smith.

“New Zealand has five-hundred trillion litres of fresh water each year flowing through our lakes, rivers, and aquifers, and we extract only two percent of that for human purposes. Ten trillion litres are extracted, made up of six trillion for irrigation, two trillion for town water supplies, and two trillion for industries. The total water extracted for bottled water is only 0.004 per cent of the resource.

So that is 500,000,000,000,000 litres a year. That is 100 million litres per New Zealander. And the opposition parties are scaremongering over it.

The suggestion by the Greens of a moratorium on bottled drinking water takes is about as sensible as pretending you could solve Auckland’s traffic congestion by banning bikes. The New Zealand First proposal for a special tax would be like putting a charge on bikes but ignoring trucks, cars and buses and pretending that it would help traffic management,” Dr Smith says.

As I’ve said many times, I have no problem with a charge on water, but it should apply to all.

“There is also a contradiction by opposition parties calling for a more diverse range of export industries than dairying but then wanting to prohibit the export of bottled water. Each litre of milk takes about 400 litres of freshwater to produce and if the export market is prepared to pay a good price for bottled water, it may be a more efficient and productive use of the resource. It would also be difficult to justify a charge on bottled water but not on a bottled product made with minimal additives of juice concentrate or other similar bottled drinking products.

“There is no case for the bottled water industry to be treated any differently from the thousands of other water users.

A tax or ban on bottled water is simply kneejerk idiotic politics.

Sell, don’t allocate water rights

April 11th, 2016 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

Eric Crampton writes in Stuff:

There has been a lot of outrage that a water bottling plant is being set up in Ashburton. A similar one was built in Hastings last year.

The plants draw water from the aquifer, put it in bottles, and sell it in Asia. Because New Zealand awards consents to draw water but nobody puts a price on water, critics see this as profiteering on an unpriced resource.

At the same time, over a thousand Canterbury dairy farms put water into cows. Dr Daniel Collins estimated that it takes about 250 litres of river and aquifer water, through irrigation, to produce a litre of Canterbury milk. That will not be a net measure, as some of the irrigation does flow back into the aquifer.

But it will take many more litres of water to produce a litre of milk than it takes to produce a litre of bottled water. The milk is collected, the water extracted, and the powder is sold in China.

And so we come to what might be the Canterbury Trabant plant. Does anyone really know whether water from Canterbury’s aquifers is more valuable when put directly into bottles and sold to Asia, or when it routes through a cow along the way?

How low does the price of milk have to be before it would make more sense to leave out the middle-cow?

It is a tough question to answer, and especially where water allocation is set by consent rather than through markets. East Germany allocated iron by something not that different from consents, rationing scarce resources across various industrial uses, and wound up making cars that were worth less than the inputs that went into them.

New Zealand allocates scarce water by consents, and hopefully does a better job of it. Trabants were ghastly; New Zealand milk is delicious.

Crampton correctly identifies that with a limited resource, it is hard to know the best use of water (beyond that needed for home supply) without having some sort of price signal.

Former Canterbury University Senior Lecturer John Raffensperger developed a smart market system letting people with water drawing rights on the Canterbury plains trade those rights.

The system cleverly managed things where drawing a litre of water has different effects on the aquifer depending on where that litre is drawn. It also could make sure that the rivers continued flowing, even in dry years.

What happens when farmers, and water bottlers, and towns and cities, can trade litres of water consent with each other? We can find out where the water really has the most value.

If a dairy farm wants to expand and cannot draw more water for irrigation under its consent, it would have to buy drawing rights from other users.

If those users are happy to give up their drawing rights for the amount offered, then the water is more highly valued when it is run through a cow and turned into milk products. If a water bottling plant that wants to expand is able to pay dairy farmers to hand over some of their drawing rights, then those litres of water are more valuable going straight into the bottle.

Definitely a better idea than the status quo.

Shifting to a trading mechanism would make sure that New Zealand water were put to its best use. That also makes water more valuable – a gain for those with current consents. It also would make it simpler to manage the system in dry years: the government could buy back drawing rights to keep rivers flowing, then sell them back to farmers when rivers run freely. And the farmers who can most easily scale back irrigation in dry years would be the ones to do so.

Public outrage about the bottling plant is really misdirected. What is really outrageous is that New Zealand’s system for allocating water looks so much like East Germany’s system for allocating iron. Let’s hope we have no hidden Trabant plants.

Well argued.

Large livestock may be excluded from waterways

December 1st, 2015 at 2:05 pm by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

Farmers may be compelled to exclude plains and lowland-dwelling dairy cattle and pigs from waterways by 2017, and beef cattle and deer by 2025.

The recommendation is one of 60 from the Land and Water Forum, which presented its report to the Government on Friday.

Members on the forum come from environment and recreation groups, industry, iwi, officials and scientists.

This is the same forum that the Fish and Game Council puled out of, because they said it was too pro-farmer. They look rather silly now.

Federated Farmers representative on the forum, Chris Allen, said the move to exclude stock should not come as a surprise to farmers. Already some regional councils use such controls.

Sheep are not included in the recommendation. 

At this week’s council meeting, Federated Farmers had discussed the issue and largely accepted the recommendations.

Good to see.

Green Party spokeswoman Catherine Delahunty said the report was not about improving water quality, but about commercial interests being able to use water cheaply.

Really? Sounds rather knee-jerk.

Little says water should not be traded!

February 6th, 2015 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

Labour party leader Andrew Little says water should not be traded as a commodity in New Zealand.

Why ever not? That is the best way to allocate and conserve it. Farmers should pay for the water they use for irrigation just as the rich family with a swimming pool should pay for their water use.

Is Little against water meters? Against any form of charging?

He did not believe water was a resource which should be traded commercially.

“We don’t make it, it comes naturally, people need it, it’s life giving. It’s essential and I’m just not sure it’s something we should now go down on creating this big commercial market for.”

Yes it is essential, as is food. But how does Andrew propose water should be allocated – a Government committee dishing out an equal portion to everyone?

$100 million for cleaner waterways

September 3rd, 2014 at 2:00 pm by David Farrar

National has announced:

A re-elected National-led Government will spend $100 million over 10 years to buy and retire selected areas of farmland next to important waterways to create an environmental buffer that helps improve water quality.

National will also introduce a mandatory requirement to exclude dairy cattle from waterways.

National’s Environment Spokeswoman, Amy Adams, and Primary Industries spokesman Nathan Guy made the announcement at the Waituna Lagoon in Southland with Prime Minister and National Party Leader John Key today.

“New Zealand’s freshwater makes us an incredibly lucky country. We have over 400,000 kilometres of rivers and more than 4,000 lakes,” Ms Adams says.

“New Zealand’s water is among the very best in the world and we want to keep it that way. These are the next steps in our considered and sensible plan to continual improvements in freshwater quality.

“We are particularly committed to improving the quality of our freshwater and have made a number of key decisions that previous governments have put in the too-hard basket.

“This Government has introduced national standards for freshwater to safeguard it for future generations,” Ms Adams says. “That new framework will give communities around the country the tools to maintain and improve the quality of their lakes and rivers.

“To continue this progress, the next National-led Government will invest $100 million over 10 years to further enhance the quality of freshwater through a targeted fund to buy and retire areas of farmland next to waterways.

This seems like a moderate sensible policy. We all want cleaner waterways, but the extreme solutions of the Greens would see our national dairy herd reduce by at least 20%, with a corresponding fall in exports and incomes.

National will also introduce a requirement to exclude dairy cattle from waterways by 1 July 2017, and will work with industry to exclude other cattle from waterways over time on intensively farmed lowland properties, says Ms Adams.

“National is committed to building a stronger economy, particularly in our regions. We are also determined to improve the quality of our environment at the same time, and we are confident we can achieve both.”

Mr Guy says dairy farmers have done a fantastic job addressing some of the key environmental issues they face, and they have fenced over 23,000 kilometres of waterways – over 90 per cent of all dairy farm waterways.

“This is an incredible undertaking to do voluntarily. At the end of the day, farmers are environmentalists; they want to leave their land in a better state for their children, and their grandchildren.

Farmers are not the enemy.

Dom Post on water claim

September 20th, 2012 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

The Dom Post editorial:

The exact date of Maori arrival in New Zealand is a mystery, although carbon dating and Maori oral tradition point to the 13th century. About one thing, however, there is no doubt. Contrary to the impression created by the bellicose posturing of the Maori king, Maori have not ”always owned the water”.

Scientists estimate New Zealand broke away from the Gondwana supercontinent about 85 million years ago. Give or take a few hundred millennia, that means Maori have inhabited the country for about 0.0009 per cent of the time it has existed as a distinct entity. Rain fell from the skies, coursed down the hills and found its way into rivers, streams and lakes for millions of years before Maori first hauled their canoes up onto beaches, and will continue to do so long after humanity has ceased to exist. Claiming ownership of the water is about as foolish as claiming ownership of the wind, the air or the stars.

Thank you.

That is not to say Maori do not have a spiritual and emotional connection to particular waterways and lakes. They do, as do many non-Maori. Nor is it to deny that Maori may have ”residual proprietary” interests in particular streams, rivers and lakes arising from guarantees contained in the Treaty of Waitangi. The Waitangi Tribunal has ruled they do and Crown lawyers have effectively conceded the point. The argument is over the extent and nature of those interests.

However, to suggest, as King Tuheitia did, that Maori own the water in the same way that someone can be said to own a television set, washing machine or pair of shoes is nonsensical.

Water cannot be owned; water rights can be, but they are a different thing and come with lesser entitlements. Conflating the two antagonises non-Maori, raises Maori expectations to levels that cannot be satisfied and undermines public support for the settlement of historic grievances.

Exactly. The posturing of the King has damaged his own cause – significantly.

So much for that hui

September 17th, 2012 at 6:39 am by David Farrar

Tracy Watkins at Stuff reports:

Maori unity over water may already be splintering.

Forty-five of Maoridom’s most powerful leaders yesterday gathered at Ngaruawahia in the wake of a hui convened by King Tuheitia – and later made it clear they were not going to be rolled by a new pan-Maori body in any discussions with the Crown over Maori rights and interests in water.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister John Key flatly rejected the claim by King Tuheitia that Maori had always owned the water.

“In law he’s just plain wrong; all the advice we’ve had is that the common law position is the correct position, which is that no-one owns water.”

Mr Key also rejected meeting a pan-Maori body ahead of individual iwi with water claims – and reiterated that there would be no national settlement on water.

Good. The view of King Tuheitia that all water is owned by Maori and should be controlled solely by Maori must not be accepted.

There also appeared to be overwhelming support for the establishment of a pan-Maori body representing broad Maori interests, including the Maori Women’s Welfare League, the kohanga reo movement, the Maori Council and others appointed by an eminent group, including Tuwharetoa head Sir Tumu te Heuheu.

But the Iwi Leaders Group yesterday issued a statement confirming a resolution had been passed unanimously endorsing the Freshwater Iwi Leaders Group and its continued engagement with the Crown.

Meanwhile, Sir Tumu said he was not even in the room when the vote was taken – and had nothing to do with his name being put forward. He confirmed that he would not be nominating anyone for such a body.

So the proposed chair wasn’t even in favour of the resolution. It looks like people were just being polite.

What annoyed me over King Tuheitia’s views is the damage it does to the generally tolerant New Zealand we have. There are genuinely divergent views on issues around the Treaty and Maori in New Zealand. That is inevitable, and will always be the case.

However many, even most, people place greater value of having relative harmony in race relations than insisting that the law must reflect their personal views. Take the Maori seats as one issue.

I personally believe it is incredibly wrong to have seats in Parliament where voters of only one race can enrol in that seat.  They were set up at a time when only property owners had votes, and was a way to allow Maori who tended to communally own property to vote. They were a well intentioned device, that should have never lasted more than a few years.

Ironically they then became a method of disenfranchisement for Maori, as they were forced to remain on the Maori roll until the 1970s.

But regardless of their history, I quite strongly feel that a country should not have electoral seats reserved for people based on who their parents were.

However I do not advocate scrapping the Maori seats unilaterally. Why? Because I respect that for many Maori, even the majority of Maori, they have become something highly valued and prized. That if Pakeha New Zealanders voted in a referendum to abolish the Maori seats, despite the desire of most Maori New Zealanders to retain them, then it would damage race relations. So I, and many others, do not advocate an abolition in the interests of a harmonious New Zealand. I would like to see the day where the majority of Maori agree to their abolition – something very different to being out-voted on abolishing them.

Now this tolerance and desire for harmony should go both ways in my view. As someone born in New Zealand, who has no other country they call home, I get upset when the Maori King advocates that I have no rights to water in New Zealand – that Maori should control, manage and allocate water. And a hui is held to seemingly advance this view.

And I am not alone in getting upset, when such claims are asserted. The vast majority of New Zealanders find such a claim repugnant, and the impact of such posturing is to diminish the pool of goodwill that exists. It will create a climate where support for settling historical grievances will evaporate, where tolerance of the Maori seats will diminish.

Tolerance is a two-way street.

A view that I will never accept

September 14th, 2012 at 6:31 am by David Farrar

I’m pretty liberal on issues to do with the Treaty of Waitangi, customary rights, common law rights, historical settlements. I’ve said I accept some Iwi have some rights around some water.

However I will never accept this view:

King Tuheitia said Maori had always owned the water.

Sorry, no you do not. You get certain rights from having moved here 600 years or so before the rest of us, but you do not get to claim ownership of all the water in New Zealand. We do not live in a country where the first wave of immigrants get all the rights, and the second wave get no rights over essential resources such as water.

The power to manage and control water and allocate water rights should rest with Maori, rather than the regional councils, he said.

This would make all non-Maori an inferior class of citizen.

If those who attended the hui wish to assert they own all the water in New Zealand, and that Maori should have total control of water management and allocation, they of course have that right. But they are risking a huge backlash that will dry up the considerable good will that exists in this country and allows settlements such as Tuhoe to have broad political support.

It would be relatively easy to get 300,000 signatures on a CIR on the topic “Should Maori own, manage and allocate water rights in New Zealand”. It would be an ugly divisive campaign, and set race relations back considerably. But it would get a record turnout, and a record no vote.

Now not all those who attended the Hui share the view of King Tuheitia that Maori own all the water in New Zealand, and should manage, control and allocate water rights. Ngai Tahi saud:

Ngai Tahu chairman Mark Solomon said Maori all agreed on a collaborative approach toward settling water issues.

“From a Ngai Tahu perspective we don’t believe the asset sales will affect the rights and interests of Maori from reaching an agreement.”

The issue of whether or not asset sales impact any water rights that Maori do have, is one the courts will decide, so I’m not too worried about that particular issue.

The issue that worries me is having the Maori King assert ownership of all water in New Zealand. I do not believe that view can be left unchecked. I hope media ask Labour’s Maori MPs if they agree with that view. Ask the Greens also – in fact all Maori MPs in Parliament.

I also do not think that would be the view of the majority of Maori living in New Zealand.

Only 5% of income!

August 29th, 2011 at 2:00 pm by David Farrar

NewstalkZB reports:

The Green Party says it has the numbers to prove farms will remain very profitable, even if they’re charged for irrigation.

It says MAF statistics show its suggested charge for irrigation is 4.8 percent of total farm income for the average Canterbury dairy operation.

Co-leader Russel Norman believes it shows farmers can afford the cost

This sort of claim could only be made by someone who has never owned or managed a business.

An extra charge which amounts to 4.8% of gross income is a huge expense. Hell many businesses have a net profit margin of less than 5%, so an extra 5% would turn them into a loss maker.

I’ve actually said I do support user pays for water – so long as it applies to all water users. But the Greens shouldn’t say that an expense equal to 5% of income is easily affordable.

Is Auckland water safe?

March 7th, 2011 at 7:00 am by David Farrar

An interesting Environment Court case starts today in Auckland. Joel Cayford has blogged a background to it here and further updates are on his blog.

He has written to Len Brown saying:

I am writing to you because I have recently become aware of a major issue for Auckland. I am at a loss to understand how Three Kings Quarry owner, Winstone Aggregates, was granted consent by the Auckland Regional Council a year and a half ago to fill the Mt Eden Road quarry, unlined and without a leachate collection system, with waste material that is permitted to contain elevated levels of contaminants including arsenic, copper, zinc, DDT and hydrocarbons.

This and other related resource consent decisions have been appealed to the Environment Court. I understand this appeal is set down for a two week hearing beginning Monday 7th March.

Have you considered Auckland Council’s position in regard to this matter?

The Mt Eden Road quarry – also known as Three Kings Quarry – is above, and drains into, a large fresh water aquifer from which water is already drawn by some (including Auckland Zoo), and which is a back-up drinking water source for Auckland in the event of a natural disaster, such as the one we have just seen in Christchurch.

Now I’m not personally across the science enough to assess what sort of risk is involved. And this is exactly why we have an Environment Court. But it does seem this is potentially a rather major issue, and one worth of scrutiny.

Editorials 4 June 2010

June 4th, 2010 at 3:00 pm by David Farrar

The Herald wants some trams to play with:

On a broader canvas, cities such as San Francisco and Melbourne are closely identified with their trams.

Auckland chose another route when it removed trams from its streets.

Now, more than 50 years later, they are being readied for a comeback on the city’s waterfront in time for next year’s Rugby World Cup.

They can be successful here as well, but only if other developments in the Wynyard Quarter provide a suitable underpinning. …

The Press focuses on water:

The granting of final approval this week to the Central Plains Water irrigation scheme should now let the proposal finally get under way.

The process by which the decision was reached has been long and impassioned and has wound up costing about twice what was originally estimated.

But along the way, the scheme has been rigorously scrutinised. About 2000 submissions were considered by the independent planning commissioners.

It has been much modified in the light of criticism that was made of the original proposal, and it is now much less ambitious than first intended.

In the end, though, the potential benefits have now been weighed by the planning commissioners against any adverse effects it will have on some people, and the final assessment is that the scheme will be good for Canterbury.

The Dom Post talks promises:

Mr Key has now been burned twice in a matter of weeks for taking positions he cannot defend.

The first was the Crown’s negotiations with Tuhoe. Whatever the Government is saying publicly, it is obvious Tuhoe was led to believe that ownership of Te Urewera National Park was up for negotiation. As Mr Key belatedly realised, it should not have been. But the fallout from Mr Key abruptly removing the park from the table has soured relations between National and the Maori Party and created a fresh source of grievance for Tuhoe.

Mr Key’s second false step – actually it was his first – was his pre-election promise, given both to this newspaper in response to a question from a reader and during a TV3 leaders’ debate five days before the election, that Kiwibank would never be sold. The promise conflicts with National’s policy on state-owned enterprises – that none will be sold during this term of government but that sales could be considered in future.

Key has now restated that Kiwibank will not be sold – not just during this term. He had little choice once he realised that his pre-election statements about sale were not just about the first term.

Key has gone to great lengths to keep faith with the electorate. What he is finding now though is that he should have been more careful with what he said pre-election. It is my belief that no leader should ever give a permanent guarantee on an issue. They should give commitments for the upcoming term of Parliament, but should always retain the right to campaign on a different policy at a future election.

The ODT asks if Peter Bethune is a hero or a victim. Some might say neither!

It is possible to feel strongly opposed to Japanese whaling in the Southern Ocean yet uneasy at some of the actions taken in opposition to it.

That’s me. I joke that the only people I hate more than the whalers are Sea Shepherd.

He continues to blame the captain of the larger vessel for a sudden change in course and a direct attempt to ram Ady Gil, such that a collision became unavoidable.

The exact sequence of events – who did what to whom – remains masked in confusion amid claim and counterclaim, the only certainty being there was a collision and, consequently, the unsalvageable Ady Gil later sank.

It was no surprise. The whalers have never had a collision with Greenpeace or other protest ships. Only Sea Shepherd who have a long history of trying to ram other ships.

It is hard to know at this distance the extent to which his tearful supplication to the Japanese judiciary on Monday was for their benefit – or that of the world at large.

Many activists tread a fine line in their efforts to invoke sympathy for the cause, often teetering but a small mis-step from achieving precisely the opposite.

Nobody, least of all those who believe Japan’s “scientific whaling” in the Southern Ocean to be bogus and unacceptable, would wish a prison sentence on this singular activist; but there might be those prepared to concede he appears, by his actions, to have asked for one.

I hope he does not get a prison sentence, because that is what he wants.

Editorials 10 May 2010

May 10th, 2010 at 2:00 pm by David Farrar

The Herald approves of the electoral finance bill:

The Government’s long-awaited bill reforming electoral finance law solves many of the problems created by its contentious, discredited and repealed 2007 predecessor and the dated 1993 Electoral Act. …

It is better than both the EFA and the status quo. Personally I wanted to see considerably more reform, but accept the Government made a decision not to push through changes, which did not have wide parliamentary support. Effectively Labour were given a veto over the changes.

Several new measures have been raised since details of the reforms were announced in February.

The most welcome is news that a separate bill will finally be introduced to tighten the use by parties and MPs of parliamentary funds to campaign to voters. …

A bill later this year will align the parliamentary and electoral law definitions in the “regulated period” or three months before an election. Parties will no longer be able to spend parliamentary money for communications other than those that “explicitly” seek people’s support or party vote or donations or membership of their party.

News I exclusively broke here, using papers I obtained under the OIA.

The Electoral (Finance Reform and Advance Voting) Amendment Bill sets a three-month regulated period, down from the entire calendar year of an election in the 2007 law, and limits it still further if an election is called fewer than three months from polling day.

The regulated period is shorter if the election date is announced less than three months before the last possible election date, not just the actual election date. Expect to see this change at select committee.

The Dominion Post has advice for Nick Clegg:

Welcome to our world. Britain is about to face the realities of coalition government. The voters have delivered an MMP result under a first-past-the-post system, effectively leaving the Liberal Democrats to decide who gets to form the next government. It is small wonder that the New Zealand Cabinet Manual is being avidly read in Whitehall offices. …

However, Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg will have to be careful not to overplay his hand. His party’s tally of 57 seats is fewer than he and others expected, and he needs to be conscious that how he behaves now will play a huge role in how Britons view proportional representation.

Mr Clegg is unlikely to have a better chance to push the cause of electoral reform with the other parties than he does now while still in the role of kingmaker – at the time of writing no deals had been struck – but if he is seen as putting his party’s interests ahead of those of the country, or of seeking to be the tail that wags the dog, there will be a backlash.

As some NZ parties have found.

And the ODT looks at local government:

The pros and cons of what exactly are local government’s “core activities” continue to be debated by the public in a somewhat desultory fashion, while it is obvious central government has long embarked on providing the statutory means by which local councils can shed what might once have been regarded as essential services in favour of the private sector. …

Mr Hide’s Local Government Amendment Act 2002 Amendment Bill, which has received its first reading in Parliament and will now be further considered in select committee, enables local councils to offer tenders to private companies to provide water services for up to 35 years, essentially a technical change since councils can already take that action, but only for a 15-year period.

He has argued that the change is necessary because 15 years is not sufficient to enable an adequate return on the economic life of water assets.

In other words, his Bill is designed to make the possibility of privately contracting water services more attractive.

But even if the Bill survives without radical change, it does not necessarily mean water services will be privatised.

Indeed, councils will retain control of services should they opt to have components contracted to private providers; the restrictions on the sale of council water services in the Local Government Act 2002 remain.


Editorials 22 March 2010

March 22nd, 2010 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

The Herald focuses on the environment in Auckland:

Stormwater pipes and sewers, many of them old and not sufficiently separated, overflowed 2500 times in 2008, fouling beaches and leaving them unsuitable for swimming. Aucklanders have been hearing about this disgrace for a lifetime, and paying for it to be fixed for almost as long. Yet progress seems not to be keeping pace with population growth.

For all that, this ARC report, the council’s third since 1999, suggests coastal water is cleaner than it used to be, beaches are usually safe for swimming and streams, though still polluted, are not as bad as before. While car use is rising, so is patronage of public transport. And though we have become fairly diligent at separating household rubbish for recycling, the amount sent to landfills is growing faster than the population.

The Dominion Post calls for more transparency in spending:

Today The Dominion Post reveals that funding for a $3 million taxpayer-funded project to turn domestic Maori businesses into export earners was abruptly suspended last November by Te Puni Kokiri because of concerns about the way public money was being spent.

Among the issues of specific concern to the Maori Development Ministry were: perceived conflicts of interest, value for money and contract compliance.

Documents obtained by the paper under the Official Information Act show the ministry was right to act as it did. But they do not explain why TPK signed off in the first place on a project that its chief executive Leith Comer now concedes was loose and wishy washy.

She is on the right track. Private organisations in receipt of public money have an obligation to account for the way it is spent. Government organisations dishing out public money have an obligation to put proper controls and benchmarks in place. Auditor-General Lyn Provost should be asked to conduct a thorough inquiry into both Tekau Plus’s use of the money and Te Puni Kokiri’s stewardship of it.

I like what some US states have done – every single payment is published on the Internet.

The Press looks at local transport:

The Christchurch City Council shows welcome determination in sticking to its plans to build the new bus exchange under ground.

Christchurch will benefit in the long and short term, even if the NZ Transport Agency regards the plan as not benefiting the nation.

The agency has to live within tight budgetary margins and contribute to projects throughout New Zealand, so it is bound to take a conservative view of the exchange. That is especially the case when the undergrounding is expensive, costing $212 million more than the above-ground option. Also, the Christchurch bus system could operate with the cheaper facility.

But the city council is right to take a longer-term view, and one that will give the city the safest and most efficient exchange with the maximum potential.

Undergrounding would do that. It would mean passengers would not have to negotiate entering and exiting vehicles and more buses could be accommodated. Also, the area above could be turned into a park – in the meantime.

Underground, overground, wombling free, the Wombles of Wimbledown Common are we.

Sorry that song just stuck in my head as I read the editorial on overground vs underground.

The ODT looks at water pollution:

Some assurance can be taken by the public from the latest survey of the efforts by dairy farmers to comply with both the law and the 2003 Dairying and Clean Streams Accord, but the results also show there is still a great deal to be done.

Indeed, the level of national non-compliance with effluent discharge consents is still a disgrace, although the situation has improved in Otago – and not before time. …

Public anger against dairy farmers who continue to flout the requirements – along with the damage being done to New Zealand’s carefully cultivated, if misleading, “clean, green” publicity – has grown to the stage where now politicians at cabinet level are taking an interest.

Claims by farmers’ organisations that “most [dairy] farmers” care about the impact their businesses have on the environment simply do not stand up to scrutiny if the survey statistics for the 2008-09 season are to be believed.

On a national scale, only 60% of dairy farms are complying with resource consents and regional plans in the discharge of their dairy effluent, although the figures for Otago and Southland farmers, at 75% and 69% respectively, are above average.

Editorials 15 March 2010

March 15th, 2010 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

The Herald talks about respect for the Police:

Mr O’Connor’s approach is even more problematic. He says a lack of guilty verdicts in the District Court had shown society and criminals that insulting the police is acceptable. It has also made the police reluctant to charge people for low-level offending using the legal provisions. “Cases show that it’s something police are expected to put up with, but it shouldn’t be,” says Mr O’Connor. His response is essentially a zero-tolerance policy that would see people shouting obscenities at the police convicted for insulting behaviour.

This raises several problems. The first is that the courts are merely reflecting societal mores in their approach to such offending. Obscenities do not have the same impact as they did, say, 30 years ago. Nor are the police alone in feeling that respect for their authority has dwindled. The teaching profession, for example, suffers from the same ailment. When it applies a zero tolerance approach, it means large-scale suspensions and expulsions.

That is as misguided as a policy that would burden overloaded courts further with low-level offences against the police for little gain. Zero tolerance does not work because its inflexibility leaves no room to deal with an out-of-character indiscretion or suchlike. Its approach to minor misdeeds is also far more likely to create a climate of fear than engender respect.

I think there is some linkage between the fact that people can now call the Police c**ts to their face, and that some of those people then also go on to assault them.

The Press focuses on irrigation:

The selection of two irrigation schemes among the four winners of a competition to find projects with a long-term potential capacity to make a significant contribution to the Canterbury economy demonstrates the significance of the appropriate use of its water resource to the region.

The fact that both schemes are extremely contentious shows also how arguments over the use of the resource are unlikely to be quickly resolved.

But if the judges are right, that these schemes are among a handful in Canterbury with the capacity to generate $100 million of revenue for Canterbury within five years and $1 billion or more in revenue within 10 years, it is obviously very important that the decisions that are reached on these projects are the right ones.

There is precious little else on the economic horizon with such potential.

I should get more excited about water issues in Canterbury as I know they are important, but frankly I don’t.

The Dominion Post looks at science funding:

In short, the Government appears to have heeded OECD criticism in 2007 that the public science system was unduly fragmented, as well as Sir Peter’s advice.

Science might be finally emerging from the shadows, its non-sexy status having long been reinforced by an often scientifically ignorant public, suspicious of the work many scientists do – take, for example, widespread distrust of genetic engineering, despite the public good it might do.

Thus, science is so often in the headlines for the wrong reasons.

Not last week, though. Then, two Wellington scientists were awarded the inaugural Prime Minister’s Science Prize for their research into the multimillion-dollar field of high-temperature superconductivity.

Both work for Industrial Research.Its chief, Shaun Coffey, says public-sector investment in the scientists’ endeavour has not only been repaid in terms of their work’s contribution to the economy, it has also positioned New Zealand “at the forefront of a new industry that is set to revolutionise the way electricity is used and distributed”. He knows the challenges ahead, however.

All eyes will be on the budget, as it has been made clear this is one of the few areas to get extra funding:

The ODT looks at the proposed tertiary education reforms:

Recent Cabinet decisions relating to funding for higher education and research suggest the Government is serious about its objective of raising knowledge standards and building a solid base for public and economic benefits from progress in science.

These are not easy decisions to make from a political perspective, since if they deliver hoped-for benefits they will do so only in the longer term.

There are few votes in such policies and it is to the Government’s credit that it is not afraid to embrace long-term goals for the greater good. …

The Government is in effect offering financial incentives for institutions tied to the improving educational performance of their students, which suggests that institutions with an aspirational goal of excellence, such as Otago university, can only benefit.

Editorials 23 February 2010

February 23rd, 2010 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

The Herald says RNZ savings are not worth it:

Radio NZ’s budget last year was just $38.2 million, of which $34.2 million was public money. That points to the swingeing nature of the Government’s programme. While it is reasonable that all state-funded bodies should tighten their belts, it seems excessive to be waving a big stick at organisations where the potential savings are trifling.

The same penchant was, however, evident in last year’s Budget. Most controversially, cuts were made to adult night school programmes.

Again, the savings seemed hardly worth the trouble. Community education takes just 0.6 per cent of the tertiary education allocation, and the canned programmes provided value for money, if only because they gave hands-on instruction at schools that would, otherwise, not have been in use.

The Herald may be right that politically it might not be smart to take a lot of political heat, for relatively small fiscal savings. However I think it is more complex than that. If the Govt goes soft on one or two state agencies, then it is harder to keep fiscal discipline with the rest of them. State sector CEOs will find ways to live within means if they think everyone is doing so. But if you start giving into media campaigns for more funding, it incentivises other agencies to do the same. And then you end up having to borrow even more than $240 million a week.

The Press talks protecting police:

In response to the weekend violence the Government is considering introducing extra penalties for offenders who assault police officers, as is the case in Western Australia. Such a move might not deter drugged or drunken offenders from attacking officers, however.

Yet, it is still worth considering, as it would reinforce the special position the police have in our society to uphold the rule of law. It would also acknowledge the real, every-day risks faced by officers as they perform their duties.

If the Government did move to strengthen penalties it would have to be determined whether the new law would apply to off-duty officers who intervened in an incident. But because the public expects off-duty officers to respond to crimes they come across, and they would not be wearing anti-stab vests, they too should have the protection of such a law.

I favour increased penalties for assaults on Police. The Police get assaulted, basically on our behalf. They deal with the criminals and risk their lives often doing so.

The Dom Post flicks at Wellington parking wardens:

Of all the low-down, mean, sneaky tricks … While football fans were cheering the Wellington Phoenix to a nail-biting victory at Westpac Stadium on Sunday evening, parking wardens were ticketing the vehicles of 61 fans who had exceeded the maximum parking time outside the ground – because the match went into extra time, then a penalty shootout.

To its credit, Wellington City Council has waived the tickets, which threatened to turn the Phoenix’s triumph into a public relations disaster. But coming on top of other recent instances of over-zealous ticketing, the incident suggests something is amiss with parking operations. Proposals to install Big Brother-style parking surveillance cameras in Courtenay Place add weight to the theory.

The purpose of parking restrictions should be to ensure that as many people as possible can park in city and suburban streets, do their business and be on their way. It should not be to fatten the coffers of Tenix, the private company which manages Wellington parking, Parkwise, the Armourguard subsidiary to which Tenix contracts ticketing, or the council itself.

Hear hear. The incentives are all about revenue maximization, not giving parkers a fair go.

And the ODT looks at water woes in Canterbury:

Seldom has a local authority received such a slating as that just given to Canterbury’s regional council, Environment Canterbury (ECan), by a Government review panel.

The panel says the gap between what ECan does and what it should do is enormous and unprecedented. …

Yet some argue no change is needed.

Rudman waters down the hysteria

November 10th, 2009 at 3:21 pm by David Farrar

At times Phil Twyford reminds me of Chicken Little. He runs about a lot claiming the sky is falling in over the Auckland Super City. Absolutely everything is to do with privatisation. I think he’d call more money for Libraries as privatisation, as Libraries buy books from the private sector!

Anyway Brian Rudman has an interesting column today, which waters down some of the hysteria from Twyford. Rudman is from the left also, but isn’t a politician. Rudman writes:

Also dumped was a proposal to amend the Local Government Act to permit “divestment of council [water and wastewater] supplies to the private sector”. The Cabinet decided instead on a minor change, extending the time limit on any contract a council made with a private water supplier or operator, from the present maximum of 15 years to 35 years.

Mr Hide received another bloodied nose over his proposals on the expansion of Watercare Services into the sole provider of all drinking and wastewater services to the new Auckland Super City.

He wanted to scrap legislative requirements that Watercare pay no dividend and that it “manage its business efficiently with a view to maintaining prices for water and wastewater services at the minimum levels.”

He argued to the Cabinet that “the Auckland Council, as the sole shareholder, will be best placed to direct Watercare, through its constitution and statement of intent, in how water and wastewater services are to be priced to achieve its broader objectives.”

His “sleepy” Cabinet colleagues managed to stay awake long enough to vote both of these proposals down.

Now some of you, like me, might actually have wished Rodney got more of his proposals through.

The point of the post though is to highlight the gay between Twyford’s hysteria and the reality. Rudman continues:

The Government’s attempt to keep the money we pay in our water bills going on water services is commendable.

People more savvy on these matters than me also say the prohibition on dividends and profit-taking will be a dampener on any foreigner contemplating a bid on this $5 billion asset. That’s if it ever gets to that, and only extremists on the edges of the Act Party and water campaigners who enjoy scaring themselves to sleep each night, seem to think this is a possibility.

Scaring themselves to sleep and boring everyone else to sleep I think.

Sure, the Cabinet has endorsed Mr Hides’ proposal that come 2015, the Auckland Council should be allowed “to determine … the governance arrangements and asset ownership for the delivery of water services.” I’m relaxed about this. While I see no reason to even bring the issue up in 2015, if the UMR poll, Labour’s Auckland issues spokesman, Phil Twyford is waving about is accurate, it’s a non-issue. The poll shows 85 per cent of Aucklander oppose privatisation of their water assets.

Mr Hide’s argument is that once the new Auckland council is bedded in, it should be allowed to decide on issues such as the governance of asset holdings in Watercare.

At least Wellington is letting us have a say for once. We should treat that as a breakthrough and a precedent, not a threat.

Phil constantly advocates that Wellington should be running Auckland more.

A Green admires ban on bottled water

December 22nd, 2008 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

Stevedore at is full of admiration for Leeds University students’ association banning of bottled water sales.

He proudly proclaims:

Note: in this context ‘ban’ means make a democratic collective decision that for the good of the planet.  Compare and contrast this for instance to it’s opposite ‘freedom’, as in restore my freedom to live against my will on a globally warming planet by rolling back the ‘ban’ on old style inefficient lightbulbs.

Does this mean that banning the Green Party is a good thing so long as 50.1% of us make a democratic collective decision that it is for the good of the planet?

Nothing worse than a combination of the tyranny of the majority and zealotry.

Wellington Water Meters

November 27th, 2008 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

The Dom Post reports:

Two of Wellington’s leaders are backing debate on a user-pays water system to reduce Wellingtonians’ reckless consumption – now more than twice the national average.

Wellingtonians each use 400 litres of water a day compared with Aucklanders’ 300 litres and a national average of 160 litres.

Of course water should be user pays. Food is.

International research showed charging people for the water they used could slash consumption by 20 to 40 per cent. This would ease pressure on the region’s water supply and delay the need to build a proposed $142-million dam for 20 years.

An excellent reasons to do it. This part was interesting:

  • Cleaning teeth – five litres per brush.
  • Shower: eight minutes under ordinary shower head – 120 litres. Eight minutes under water-efficient shower head – 80 litres.
  • Bath (full) – 200 litres.
  • Toilet half-flush – six litres.
  • Garden hose (on full) – 250 litres every five minutes.
  • Dishwasher – up to 25 litres a wash.
  • Washing machine: top loading – 100-200 litres. Front loading – 70-85 litres.
  • Dripping tap – 60,000 litres a year.